Sustainable consumption requires sustainable production


The trade unions are major, and therefore, acknowledged stakeholders in the UN 10-year Framework of Programmes on Sustainable Consumption and Production Patterns.

The purpose of this UN initiative is to raise international awareness of the fact that in a globalised, trade-dependent world, what is consumed somewhere is often produced elsewhere.

This means that in order to achieve sustainable development, both one’s production methods and one’s consumption habits have to be ‘sustainablised’.

This is perhaps easiest described in terms of climate change and carbon dioxide emissions.

The emissions figures for different countries vary depending on the accounting method used.

To be sustainable, both the emissions from a country’s production as well as its consumption levels will have to come down to the emission targets recommended by climate scientists in order to avoid further jeopardising the climate situation.

Emissions can be measured in three ways:

  • The production perspective (as used in UN negotiations) – a geographical approach whereby responsibility lies with the country in which the emissions occur. The advantage of using this approach in negotiations is that the negotiating countries have jurisdiction over the national policy tools which can reduce domestic emissions.
  • The consumption perspective – based on who actually consumes goods whose (often international) supply-chain production has caused emissions. The country where the goods and services which gave rise to the emissions are consumed in is recorded as responsible for the emissions, regardless of where the emissions occurred geographically. This consumption perspective is increasingly referred to by the goods-exporting developing countries whose emissions are rising in almost direct proportion to the increasing consumer demand for more and more cheap, imported goods from rich countries.

Globally, total emissions are the same regardless of the accounting method but the responsibility for emissions varies depending on whether focus is placed on national borders, on citizens’ consumption behaviour or on the revenue generated by those activities which result in emissions.

Given that finding solutions is urgent and that the UN climate talks are plagued with deadlocks, alternative ways of reporting emissions could well be a constructive way to come to grips, not just with stalled climate negotiations, but also with our often stalled efforts to reduce both our production and consumption emissions.

The Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees works strategically with these issues and recently published a report titled “The swings and roundabouts of different nations’ carbon-emissions” and an open-access database detailing the production and consumption carbon-dioxide emissions for different countries, as both are needed in the transition to reach both sustainable production-methods and sustainable consumption-patterns.

For the transition to be just, we also need researchers to further develop a methodology to describe sustainable income and sustainable income-patterns.